What's Happening In The Florida Keys: Dispatches After Hurricane Irma
WLRN News and its partners have reporters on the ground throughout the islands. We will be posting their updates as they come in.
---------------------- Tuesday. September 19 ----------------------
3:30 p.m. Dialysis clinic reopens in Key West
The DaVita outpatient dialysis center in Key West is open again.
The center had no damage after Hurricane Irma and was prepared to run on generator power. But it couldn’t reopen until it had steady access to water, which has been a problem for the southernmost key.
“It's really important for that water to be ultra pure,” says Kenny Gardner, the southeast regional vice president for DaVita.
Dialysis patients generally have to sit for several hours a few times a week, hooked up to a machine that functions as an artificial kidney. It’s a procedure that relies on osmosis between a person’s blood and carefully titrated electrolyte fluids. DaVita has its own water filtration system, but it was waiting to make sure it had a reliable municipal water supply.
Gardner says the Key West clinic has 40 patients who come regularly for dialysis. Missed treatments can cause fluid buildups and organ damage, so evacuees were set up at other dialysis locations across the state. All 40 of DaVita’s Keys patients have been accounted for after Hurricane Irma.
10:46 a.m. Key West Airport to resume commercial service Wednesday, Sept. 20
Key West International Airport will resume commercial service Wednesday morning, Monroe County announced.
Commercial flights will be on a limited schedule the first few days. Travelers are advised to contact their airlines for specific information. Also for information, follow the Key West International Airport Facebook page.
The airport has been closed to commercial service for 12 days.
Monroe Schools announce staggered re-opening dates
Public schools in the Florida Keys will re-open on a staggered start basis.
The following will re-open on Monday, Sept. 25, with employees requested to report on Thursday, Sept. 21:
- Plantation Key School
- Coral Shores High School
- Key Largo School
- Ocean Studies School
- Treasure Village Montessori
The following schools in Key West and Marathon will open Wednesday, Sept. 27, with employees reporting Monday and Tuesday, the 25th and 26th:
- Stanley Switlik Elementary School
- Marathon Middle High School
- Gerald Adams Elementary School
- Horace O'Bryant School
- Key West Collegiate Academy
- Key West High School
- May Sands Montessori Charter School
- Poinciana Elementary School
- Sigsbee Charter School
Schools in the area most impacted by the storm will re-open on Monday, Oct. 2, with employees reporting on Thursday, Sept. 28.
- Big Pine Academy
- Sugarloaf School
You can get more information about the district at keysschools.com, on Facebook at MYMCSD and on Twitter at @keysschools, on Instagram @MYMCSD. Superintendent Mark Porter is @supt_porter
7:30 a.m. Florida Keys open to all traffic
Monroe County authorities opened the Keys to all vehicular traffic today at 7:30 a.m. The checkpoint at Florida City has been lifted but, due to Hurricane Irma damages, only individuals with proof of residence will be allowed in the following areas:
District 1 – Big Pine Key to Stock Island
Long Beach Road 33MM
Key Deer Boulevard / Wilder Road 30.5MM
New Found Harbor 30MM
Ship’s Way 29.5MM
Barry Avenue / Pirates Road 28.5MM
State Road 4A 28MM
West Indies Drive 27.5MM
East & West Shore Drive 25MM
Caribbean Drive 24.5MM
Spanish Main Drive 23MM
Ocean & Cutthroat Drive 22.75MM
Drost Drive 21MM
Crane Boulevard 19MM
Sugarloaf Boulevard 17MM
South Pointe Drive 16.5MM
East & West Circle Drive 15MM
Blue Water Drive 14.5MM
Boca Chica Road 11MM
Active Patrol – Blue Water Drive to Long Beach Road
Active Patrol – West Indies Drive to Ramrod Key
Active Patrol – Stock Island to Big Coppitt Key
District 4 & 5
Coral Key 63MM
Duck Key 60MM
Coco Plum Drive 54MM
Sombrero Beach Road / Anglers Drive 50MM
Sombrero Boulevard / 53rd Street 50MM
---------------------- Monday. September 18 ----------------------
1:10 p.m. 10,000 people in Keys left homeless by Hurricane Irma, governor says
Katie Atkins, The Keynoter
An estimated 10,000 residents are homeless after Hurricane Irma blew through the Florida Keys as a massive and powerful Category 4 storm and devastated entire blocks of homes last week.
Read more here.
12:10 p.m. Health and Human Services Secretary visits the Keys along with Governor Rick Scott
Governor Rick Scott was back in the Keys on Monday morning and this time he had U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price with him. They were asking Monroe County and Marathon officials what they needed to help get the Keys recover.
Gov Scott said the biggest need in the Keys is going to be housing. He said the plan was to move first responders into base camps so residents that have lost their homes can move into hotels, but he said it's also important to get the tourism economy of the Keys back up and running as quickly as possible.
Scott toured an emergency medical camp that has been set up in Marathon. Fishermen's Hospital is still closed so the governor urged people to be very careful handling debris.
11:21 a.m. FWC responds to airplane crash north of the 7 Mile bridge
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rescued two survivors of a plane crash. Here are the details:
On Sept. 16th 2017 at approximately 9:30 am FWC responded to a single engine aircraft crashed into the water approximately four miles north of the west end of the 7 Mile Bridge… The pilot contacted MCSO 911 who transferred him to FWC. FWC dispatched officers out of Marathon and Bahia Honda and the USCG sent a vessel from USCG Station Marathon. The aircraft was completely submerged. The pilot and the passenger were able to leave the aircraft and hold onto two commercial trap buoys for flotation. Coordinates were relayed from the pilot to FWC and the both the pilot and the passenger were pulled from the water in good condition. The position of the aircraft was documented and FWC will complete an incident report to be turned over to the FAA. They were taking aerial photos of the hurricane damage.
---------------------- Sunday, September 17 ----------------------
6:51 p.m. Keys homeowners find heavy damage, but ‘everybody’s OK’
Alex Harris and Lesley Clark, Miami Herald
Joe Ferrero and wife Joann arrived back at their trailer home here Sunday with a brand new generator, cleaning supplies and food, ready to scrub up and move back in.
They had been up north for Hurricane Irma, and neighbors told them damage at their place was limited to two windows.
Reality was worse, much worse. The hurricane-force winds that had raked across this tiny island punched out windows and let in gallons of sea spray and rain. Three large palm trees landed on the roof, poking holes.
Their house was a total loss, Joe said, sitting outside, a bit stunned. Behind him hung a decorative life preserver that read “Another Day in Paradise.”
Next step? Ferrero had no idea.
“Maybe we’ll get a big tent,” he said.
The Ferreros didn’t have insurance for the trailer, but Ferrero said he’ll figure something out.
“Everybody’s OK, what are you going to do?” he said.
That’s the dilemma that faces thousands of Keys residents, many of whom were allowed home for the first time Sunday, more than a week after Hurricane Irma ripped through the area. Many lived in the uninsurable trailers and mobile homes that Irma tossed aside or tore to matchsticks. Stilt homes or new construction properties fared better, even on the hardest hit parts of the islands — the middle and lower Keys.
Read more here.
5:56 p.m. Grateful evacuees
Roger and Jane Washburn went through the checkpoint in Florida City at six thirty a.m. and pulled up to their house in Key West at 8:58 a.m.
“We had the fastest drive we ever had,” Roger Washburn said Sunday morning to WLRN reporter Nancy Klingener, as they were walking their English sheepdog, Jamie, around their Old Town Key West neighborhood.
The Washburns were already out of town as Irma approached and wound up at Jane’s sister’s place in Broward County. After the storm, they learned quickly that their home was OK from a neighbor who was cat sitting and from satellite photos.
They were not angry, like some evacuees, that it took a week before they were allowed to return.
“We wanted to get back but we didn’t want to come back without power,” Washburn said.
Washburn says they watched the Facebook feeds of local Keys officials for information. And they were disgusted by the coverage they saw on cable news, which portrayed the Keys as a whole as having more devastation than it does.
“I’d like to throttle them,” Washburn said.
11:30 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 17: Coast Guard regulations in effect for waters around the Keys
The waters around the Florida Keys are now under special regulations from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Any vessel within a mile of the Florida Keys must "proceed at a slow speed (fully off plane, completely settled in the water and not creating excessive wake)," the guidance states.
The special regulations also prohibit traveling or anchoring within 25 yards of law enforcement vessels, salvage vessels or visible wreckage.
These rules will be in effect until Oct. 1.
Read more here.
---------------------- Saturday, September 16 ----------------------
8:00 p.m.: Officials add second checkpoint at Mile Marker 47 for re-entry to Lower Keys
Entrance to the Lower Keys and Key West will begin at 7 a.m. on Sunday for residents, business owners, disaster workers and supply trucks.
A second checkpoint at Mile Marker 47, in addition to the one in Florida City, will be in place for re-entry.
The Monroe County Emergency Management released more information for those going back home:
For those re-entering, know that medical services, food, water, and electricity are extremely limited so returning residents. There is no functioning hospital to admit patients in the Middle or Lower Keys. Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon is not open and the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West only has its Emergency Room open. Returning residents should bring provisions and any necessary medications to sustain themselves for several days. Residents returning to the hardest hit areas from MM 40 to MM 10 should know that services are almost non-existent. There is a heavy law enforcement presence in that area to prevent looting and provide security.
6:54 p.m.: Residents return to the Middle Keys for the first time
Lesley Clark, Alex Harris and Elizabeth Koh, Miami Herald
When Judith Silva pulled up to her fish market and restaurant alongside Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 52 early Saturday morning, she breathed a bit of a sigh of relief. The signs for King Seafood were still perched atop her business and the mural she had recently paid $2,000 to restore was intact.
Inside, was a different matter: A 2-to-3 foot storm surge had deposited a thick soup of noxious mud and likely shorted out all her freezer cases.
“It's a complete loss,” Silva said. With no insurance, she's just hoping she qualifies for some FEMA or other small business assistance.
Read more here.
4:49 p.m.: During recovery, Monroe County Sheriff's Office won't tolerate crime
At 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, Thomas Dowell was riding a bike without any lights. Directly behind the bike, he pulled along an air conditioner, according to a daily crime report. It read: "Global Business Recovery."
It wasn't his, nor was the emergency position-indicating radio beacon he carried with him.
It also wasn't Dowell's first violation in the Keys after Irma. His first offense was being out past curfew in Marathon.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay announced his office will not tolerate "those who take advantage of circumstances to commit crimes" in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
The report said Dowell was arrested and taken to jail. Two days later, another man in Grassy Key was arrested on charges of burglary, theft and criminal mischief.
3:47 p.m.: Port of Key West opens, with restrictions
The U.S. Coast Guard announced the reopening of the Port of Key West, with a few restrictions:
Deep draft vessels may transit from the sea buoy to the Navy Outer Mole Pier, at normal charted depth during daylight hours if they have followed Notice of Arrival requirements All other areas of the port remain closed to vessel traffic. A safety zone established September 8, is being enforced. No person or vessel will be permitted to enter, transit through , anchor in or conduct cargo operations without obtaining permission from the Captain of the Port
The Coast Guard encourages ships to watch out for and report any potential hazards by calling 304-433-3352.
3:30 p.m.: Welcome home comes with warnings
Gwen Filosa, Keynoter
As residents in the Middle and Lower Keys were told they could return home from their Hurricane Irma evacuation almost two weeks ago, city and county leaders warned of the camping-like conditions that include no potable water and in some areas a lack of power.
“We understand that people are anxious to return to their homes and to begin damage assessment,” said City Manager Jim Scholl. “But they need to be prepared for some discomfort.”
Key West lost power for several hours Sunday morning.
Read more here.
12:53 p.m.: Schools reopening and details on Irma-related deaths
Monroe County Schools have set an "aggressive" target date to reopen on Monday, September 25. The district sent a press release this morning:
"Superintendent Mark Porter has made the decision to target the reopening of all Monroe County Schools on Monday, September 25, 2017. All personnel should expect to report Thursday, September 21st and Friday and September 22nd. If they are unable to report they are asked to make contact with their principal or immediate supervisor."
Meanwhile, the Monroe County Sheriff's office says door-to-door welfare checks are almost complete. Approximately 15,000 homes have been checked, or about 98 percent, according to a statement from the Sheriff's office.
There are now nine reported Irma-related deaths in the Monroe County. The Sheriff's office released information on some of the circumstances:
Roy Vincent Pardee, 60 years old, whose body was found in a crashed car in Marathon during the storm. James Armantrout who was found dead on Shark Key in the Lower Keys. Had medical conditions which probably caused or contributed to his apparent natural death. White male who has been identified, but whose next of kin has not been notified. 66 years old, died of apparent natural causes in Tavernier. Had just been released from the hospital. Had chronic medical conditions believed to have caused his death. White female, 61, of Marathon who has been identified but whose next of kin have not been notified. Chronic medical conditions which most likely contributed to the cause of her death. Unidentified older white male found in rubble on 28th Street in Marathon. The man is possibly in his 60s, with gray hair and a beard. Older white male died while in shelter at Marathon High School, during the storm. He has been identified but his next of kin have not been identified. He had medications with him at the shelter indicating a chronic medical condition which most likely contributed to his death. Older white male found on a partially sunken boat offshore of Stock Island. No identification found with the body. The man is possibly in his 60s, with grey hair and a beard. White male unknown identification found across from the Big Pine Key cemetery near the shoreline. Possibly in his 60s, grey hair and beard. Wearing a red life jacket. White male, 59 years old, fell and was injured. He was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center and died at that facility. His identification is unknown at this time.
11:49 a.m.: More details on Keys reentry
David Goodhue of The Reporter has more details on reentry for the rest of Monroe County:
"Only residents with their county-issued stickers will be allowed to return and those involved in the recovery effort. The Keys is not open to tourists. The checkpoint is in Florida City."
And residents who come back should supply themselves for long-term, rough conditions:
Officials warn living conditions will be primitive for at least the next few weeks or more. So, if you return, bring enough supplies, including food and fresh water, to last for a very long time."
9:15 a.m.: Sheriff Rick Ramsay says Middle and Lower Keys reopening
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay announced on his blog that the Middle Keys will be open starting today at 9 a.m. and that the Lower Keys and Key West will follow tomorrow morning.
The announcement came with caveats: Ramsay reminded residents they need to bring their own supplies, from water to power. And there's going to be "a more comprehensive announcement in a short while from Monroe County Emergency Management. In the meantime, there will be a road block set up at the 7 mile bridge until the Lower Keys opens up."
---------------------- Friday, September 15 ----------------------
6:57 p.m.: Help for pets in distress
Monroe County authorities are calling on residents to keep an eye not only on fellow humans but also on animal friends.
If you are in the Middle and Lower Keys and have a pet in distress, call the emergency hotline for the Florida Keys SPCA at 305-304-5964. If you know of a friend or neighbor who evacuated without their pet and that pet needs food, it is best to feed the pet where it is. Pet food can be obtained at the Marathon Animal Shelter, 615 11th Street Ocean in Marathon. The Marathon and Key West animal shelters are not open yet. Work is being done to get them ready after cleaning them up and repairing damage after Hurricane Irma. At least two veterinarians are open In Marathon. The Marathon Animal Hospital, 5001 Overseas
5:30 p.m. Still no date of opening access to Marathon
Here are some of the highlights of the 5:30 p.m. update from the Monroe County authorities:
Discussions are in the works to reopen the Keys as far as Marathon. A few more health safety issues have to be worked out first. Stay tuned.
Residents and business owners in the Upper Keys, up to mile markes 73, still have access during non-curfew hours.
For residents in need of a shelter:
The Red Cross is gathering the incoming supplies and plans to have the shelters opened later today at the Marathon High School, Sugarloaf High School and Key West High School. They have cots, blankets and comfort kits. Islamorada has opened a shelter at Island Christian School and the Fire Chief has set up 2 Salvation Army Canteen Units at Island Christian School and at the MM75 Check Point. Update: There is no shelter at Coral Shores High School.
Food distribution centers:
Six distribution centers for food and water will be in operation today. They are not providing ice. They are located at: Coral Shores High School in Tavernier Marathon High School National Key Deer Refuge office on U.S. 1 on Big Pine Key Sugarloaf School Sears Town Plaza in New Town Key West 4th Street parking lot near the soccer field in Bahama Village in Old Town Key West.
If you need medical attention:
Mariners Hospital in Tavernier officially opened today. The Lower Keys Medical Center’s Emergency Room is open and they are working to completely open the hospital in Key West. Disaster Medical Assistance Teams have set up medical care stations at Florida Keys Community College on Stock Island and at Marathon City Hall. They are open 24/7.
4:23 p.m. Key West to remain closed to residents
While the city of Marathon is considering letting residents return this weekend, Key West will remain closed to locals.
“There isn’t enough fuel, food and water flowing in to take care of everybody,” said Key West City Manager Jim Scholl to Florida Keys News Reporter Gwen Filosa.
Asked if it could be another week before Key West is opened to residents, Scholl said it is possible.
Key West on Friday appeared to have suffered largely tree damage but like the rest of the Lower Keys, it had no potable water available or a fully functioning hospital and many supplies needed to repair a home weren’t available.
“This is not a good situation,” Scholl said.
4:12 p.m. Manager of Big Pine Key's Winn Dixie gets recognition for actions during the storm
Four days after Irma, the Winn-Dixie grocery store on Big Pine Key was open for business with well-stocked shelves and a brisk trade of customers buying ice, water, food and other supplies.
It was a beacon for the hard-hit Lower Keys island. But it was more than that during the store itself. It was a lifesaver.
Store Manager Kenny Lowe was staying in the store throughout the storm — by the time they closed before Irma, Miami was evacuating and Lowe didn’t think he could get gasoline to get out of the storm’s path.
So he and a few others were in the store, which they’d tried to protect by building a plywood wall in front of it. Around 9 a.m. Sunday, that wall came down.
“About an hour later these two gentlemen that work for us were climbing up over the rubble to get in the store. Their house had blown down on them right in the middle of the surge,” Lowe said. “And they walked for about a mile, in the middle of the hurricane, in the middle of an 8-foot storm surge.”
One of them was Anthony Attilio. He was hard at work at the store Thursday — as he had been essentially since he sought refuge there.
He and his roommate were spending the storm in a trailer on Avenue C.
“The trailer blew apart around six in the morning. We lost one wall, then the roof and the other wall. Me and my roommate were hanging on to a pole outside, said our goodbyes, because we didn’t think we were going to make it,” Attilio said. “But we did, and we came up here to the store.”
Attilio is a Conch — or native of the Keys.
“Everything that I know growing up here is gone. Nothing looks the same and it never will and it’s really upsetting,” he said. “But we’ll rebuild. We’re Conchs, we’re tough, we’ll rebuild. Everything will be OK.”
On Thursday the Winn-Dixie store had a special guest – the president and CEO of the grocery store’s parent company.
Anthony Hucker credited Lowe, the store manager, with heroic performance during Irma.
“I guarantee you, he saved people’s lives. Many customers have lost their houses, they’ve lost their cars, they’ve lost their homes,” Hucker said. “He provided safe haven and saved people’s lives.”
12:56 p.m. Gov. Scott surveys damage in Keys as death toll rises to eight
Gov. Rick Scott toured the Florida Keys on Wednesday as the extent of the devastation from Hurricane Irma became clearer, with the death toll in the island chain rising to at least eight since Irma hit.
The governor surveyed the damage for the first time on foot, flying into Marathon via helicopter and then stopping at hard-hit Big Pine and Cudjoe Keys before departing from Key West.
None of the dead have been found by search-and-rescue teams, which have been going door-to-door. Monroe County authorities say six deaths have been caused by natural causes and two others directly by the Category 4 storm. Another 40 have been injured, 30 of them in Key West.
Read more with here.
12:20 p.m. Boaters urged to stay out of Key West area
Boaters are encouraged to avoid waters around Key West, as the Port of Key West will remain closed for the weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday, according to a report by the News Service of Florida.
Due to “unsafe infrastructure” and debris in the water, the Coast Guard warned that “safe navigation around the Keys can't be ensured at this time.” Hurricane Irma slammed into the Keys on Sunday before traveling up the state.
“Vessel operators not abiding by safe boating regulations may endanger themselves or the people around them and may ultimately hamper any ongoing relief efforts in the area,” Cmdr. Lexia Littlejohn, a deputy incident commander for the Coast Guard, said in a prepared statement.
10:45 a.m. Keys mayor to announce when people can return to Middle and Lower Keys
Key West Mayor Craig Cates will make a decision by Friday night about whether residents can return to the southernmost island anytime soon. Officials in Marathon are also considering letting people back in the city.
Leaders in both Key West and Marathon say they want to have a functional hospital and jail before letting people come back, according to multiple sources.
---------------------- Thursday, September 14 ----------------------
8:08 p.m. Tensions flare at checkpoint as Florida Keys residents pine to go home
David Ovalle and Larry Kahn, Miami Herald
Tensions flared Wednesday afternoon at a police checkpoint as frustrated Florida Keys residents ran into a checkpoint in Islamorada blocking them from going to their homes in the Middle and Lower Keys.
Several cars loaded with families, pets and even elderly relatives who had evacuated pleaded with officers to let them through. Some residents waited for hours in the hot sun. At one point, officers warned that their cars would be towed if they did not leave the checkpoint by the evening.
Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said cars would not be towed unless they were blocking the roadway. She blamed the confusion on an bogus press release from an unknown source stating that the residents could travel to Marathon.
6:53 p.m. Keys home, battered but standing
David Ovalle, Miami Herald
Built directly on the Atlantic Ocean in Summerland Key, Bob Chapek’s home stood in the cross hairs when Hurricane Irma slammed into the islands.
A terrifying seven-foot surge of sea water burst into the ground-floor garage as 130 mph winds relentlessly hammered the building.
But when the water receded and the winds passed, the concrete home elevated on stilts with hurricane resistant windows remained intact. The ground-floor garage — designed to give way to surge — was an unmitigated mess, along with the docks and yard. But the structure stood strong, the upper floor where people live untouched inside.
Read more here.
6:30 p.m.: Still no word on when Keys will reopen to residents
Kate Irby, Miami Herald
Monroe County officials still have no idea when the Florida Keys will reopen to residents past around mile marker 73.
“We’re working as hard as we can to get basics restored for residents as fast as we can,” said Bryan Cook, a spokesman for Monroe County. “Please practice patience.”
Supply trucks and emergency services are being let through past that point, but residents are still blocked.
5:03 p.m. As National Guard Brings supplies to Keys, two head to mainland by foot
Nancy Klingener, WLRN
In the Keys right now, a lot of traffic is flowing south. There are National Guard units that are distributing food and water. There are resources from every agency that you can think of coming in with supplies: fuel, groceries, ice water. But two people at least were headed out.
Stacy Young and Cherie Pruitt were walking along the side of the Overseas Highway Thursday morning. They were walking from Key West to the mainland where they plan to meet up with Young's mom. They said it was just too hot in Key West, and they were especially worried about the lack of water service.
Young and Pruitt had a rolling cooler for water, a rolling suitcase, and they were also carrying medications for Young's asthma, high blood pressure and bad knee. And they were caring Gucci, Young's Yorkshire Terrier in a bag. They'd gotten a ride as far as Big Coppit Key about 10 miles from Key West, and my husband and I took them to Big Pine Key. We last saw them heading over the next bridge on the way out.
4:30 p.m. Survival stories from Hurricane Irma in Lower Keys
Nancy Klingener, WLRN
A lot of people in the Lower Keys have remarkable survival stories from Hurricane Irma. Tim Marquis' Barnacle Bed and Breakfast fared remarkably well, even though it’s on the Atlantic Ocean in Big Pine Key. He spent the storm there. The surge tore off the building’s storm shutters, but the windows held. The roof is solid.
Anthony Attilio’s trailer on Big Pine Key blew apart around him. In the middle of the storm, he made his way to the Winn Dixie on Big Pine Key. He works there, and the store manager, Kenny Low, was there and let him in. The Winn Dixie was up and running Thursday, selling a nearly-full selection of groceries and the all-important ice and water.
Susan Aldridge and Timothy Potter work at Mangrove Mama's on Sugarloaf Key, and they live in a campsite out back. They spent the hurricane in the restaurant, and Aldridge said the water came up to their waist, but the structure held together. On Thursday, they were out in front of the restaurant offering jambalaya to all takers who went by on US-1.
3:00 p.m. Navy recalls aircraft carrier from duty off the Keys
Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald
In a sign of scaling-back Hurricane Irma relief operations in and around Florida, the Navy relieved the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln from duty off the Keys on Thursday and recalled it to its base in Norfolk, Virginia, military officials said.
The Lincoln was the largest symbol of the huge national response mounted by the Department of Defense as the Category 5 hurricane was headed to Florida. But by Thursday, with an estimated 10,000 National Guard and reserve troops in the state, all but about 2,000 from Florida, the Pentagon had already began recalling forces.
2:40 p.m. Pine Key resident wants to bring a ‘moveable feast’ back to the Keys
Kate Irby, Miami Herald
Julie Kincaid lives on Pine Key, what she refers to as "ground zero" for Hurricane Irma. Like everyone else who evacuated, she's unable to get back to her home.
But when she does go back, she wants to bring a "moveable feast."
Law enforcement is preventing Keys residents from returning, citing safety concerns, and has yet to provide details on when they will allow people who evacuated to go back. But when they can, Kincaid, a coordinator of science and nursing at the Florida Keys Community College, said she wants as many people as possible to be ready with trucks full of supplies – not just for themselves, but for everyone.
"Everybody is sitting here and we can't help, there's nothing we can do for our neighbors still there," Kincaid said. "This is something we can do."
Kincaid is looking for residents who have extra rooms in their cars, trailers or U-hauls to take basic necessities back once the road is opened. For those who don't live in the keys, she's looking for donations of basic necessities such as water, food, propane tanks, toilet paper and non-electric cookers for boiling water. She's currently assembling an official list of needs.
"It sounds like we're going to be without power for a long time down there," she said. "So we need to think of things we can use without power."
A few people have already volunteered trailers to haul supplies back once the road is opened. Kincaid is currently staying in Wellington in Palm Beach County, and other trailer locations include Jupiter, Spartanburg, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Those interested in donating items, trailers or services should contact Kincaid at email@example.com.
1:00 p.m. Publix opens in Key WestDouglas Hanks, Miami Herald
Publix reopened a Key West store on Thursday, resuming grocery service in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
After being replenished by a convoy of supplies heading south from Miami, Publix Store No. 500 in Searstown Plaza opened its doors at 10 a.m. The store, located at 3316 N Roosevelt Blvd, is running on generator power and limited hours, with closing time set at 4 p.m.
"We're doing the best we can," said Nicole Maristany Krauss, media relations manager for Publix in Miami. "It's not lost on us that the community is really relying on us to be available."
11:50 a.m. Highlights from Monroe County Emergency Management's update
Here are some of the key highlights of the 11:45 a.m. update from Monroe County Emergency Management:
Re-entry is still limited to residents and business owners in the Upper Keys, to mile marker 73 and only during non-curfew hours. Work is being done as quickly as possible to make it safe enough to open the rest of the Keys to re-entry.
The latest about power in the Keys:
Keys Energy Services, which covers the South end of Seven Mile Bridge to Key West, reports that about 16 percent of their clients now have service in parts of Key West, Stock Island and Key Haven. The Florida Keys Electric Coop, which services the rest of the Keys, has restored power to about 42 percent of its service area.
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority reports that has water pressure down to Stock Island.
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m., Key West and Stock Island will have water from stored supplies and the reverse osmosis plant. There are three fill stations for customers. Bring your jugs, 5 gallon buckets, etc. They will be open from 8-6 daily. The locations are as follows: - Mile Marker 10 on Big Coppitt @ FKAA Pump Stastion Tank - Summerland Key @ Horace Street @ FKAA Pump Station Tank - Big Pine Key @ Drinka Lane across from Winn Dixie
The precautionary boil water notice is still in effect. Authorities are asking residents to not use water for washing cars, boats, and houses for now.
11:10 a.m.: Miami Beach firefighters heading to the Keys
Miami Beach firefighters are heading south to relieve emergency workers in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and they're taking donated supplies with them.
A crew of of about 20 left Wednesday with nonperishable food, water, flashlights, candles and other supplies collected from residents across the city. Commissioner John Elizabeth Aleman drove her SUV from south to north beach to people's doors to pickup the goods as residents returned to their homes, surveyed their own damage and tried to get back to normal.
Another crew of firefighters is leaving today at noon.
Read more at our news partner, the Miami Herald.
7:27 a.m. Access only until MM 73, not to Marathon
Monroe County authorities issued a press release indicating that residents and business owners of the Florida Keys have access until mile marker 73 in Islamorada, not to Marathon.
County authorities indicated that only emergency personnel and the crews working in infrastructure recovery efforts are allowed beyond MM 73.
"Anyone at MM 73 must leave before the dusk-to-dawn curfew that is in effect throughout the Keys. People at the checkpoint who don’t reside in the Upper Keys must either leave the Keys or go to Coral Shores High School at MM 90 in Tavernier. It is open as a shelter of last resort. There are no services," said the Monroe County press release.
6:02 p.m. Keys Energy gives estimated timeframe for when power may be restored
WLRN's Nancy Klingener says that Keys Energy estimates that they'll have power restored for a majority of Key West to Lower Sugarloaf Key within the week. For Upper Sugarloaf Key to the Seven Mile Bridge, restoration will be longer due to significant damage.
4:46 p.m. Monroe County schools to work out of Miami-Dade
Monroe County public schools will work out of Miami-Dade Public Schools offices.
The district’s facilities, operations and planning team will continue efforts with Monroe County officials to ensure the school infrastructures on the island are safe after Hurricane Irma, according to a press release.
Monroe County Schools Superintendent Mark Porter says he wants to open all of the Keys schools as “soon as possible.”
“We will have our students back in school in the very near future,” he said in the release.
Approximately 8,600 students in the Upper, Middle, Lower Keys and Key West attend school in Monroe County in public, charter and alternative programs.
12:21 p.m. Monroe County updates lists of fatalities and injuries during Hurricane Irma
As of Wednesday morning, Monroe County Emergency Management reports that there were 8 deaths that occurred due to or during Hurricane Irma. The deaths are both storm-related and due to natural causes. Two of those 8 deaths occurred in Key West. The other 6 occurred in other parts of the County.
There also were 40 persons injured during the storm. Of those 40, 10 occurred in Key West and the other 30 occurred in other parts of the County.
11:15 am: ER at Mariner's Hospital expected to open soon, no timeline yet for Fishermen's Community Hospital
Dr. Wayne Brackin, VP and COO of Baptist Health South Florida, confirmed that Hurricane Irma caused no structural damage at Mariners Hospital, in Tavernier. "We hope to have the ER open very soon," said Brackin. "The 1st floor was damaged by the flood so we are focusing on cleaning it as fast as we can."
Fishermen Community Hospital, in Marathon, is another story. "The hospital got very wet," said Brackin, who explained that it got water coming through the roof, windows, and shutters, and also got water intrusion during the storm surge.
According to Brackin, a specialized team is still evaluating the damages and there's no timeline yet for reopening Fishermen's Community Hospital.
7:00 a.m. Cellphone signal is back in Key West
AT&T customers in Key West report service is back, although the signal is still spotty.
11:10 p.m. All Keys bridges safe for travel
Gwen Filosa, Keynoter
All 42 bridges that connect U.S. 1 from the mainland across the Florida Keys are safe for travel after a state inspection, Monroe County officials said Tuesday.
The Florida Department of Transportation also repaired two stretches of the highway that had washed away during Hurricane Irma two days earlier – at mile marker 37 and mile marker 75 – and they are also ready for motorists.
Still, only the Upper Keys remained open to residents and business owners as the Lower Keys, including Key West, languished without power and cell phone service and food and fuel remained scarce.
Read more at FLKeysNews.com
7:30 p.m. For a couple from Big Pine Key, initial help comes from Alaska Search And Rescue (report from Nancy Klingener)
Harry Appel lives on Long Beach on Big Pine Key, and had planned to ride out the storm in a Category 5 structure there. He and his fiance, Jennifer DiMaria, wound up moving to the refuge at Sugarloaf School the morning before the storm. They said that was a good call. The structure they were previously in wound up getting totally destroyed.
They went to Sugarloaf School with six cats, a cockatoo and two foster fish.
They said it was rough in the shelter, but it was definitely the right call. DiMaria said, “Everything is just gone. The terrain is gone. The trees are gone.” The couple are back on Long Beach on Big Pine Key, staying in a room in a house.
They said the first people they saw after the storm were a team from Alaska Search and Rescue who made sure they had water and medical attention, and helped them move a generator. The next day they saw a team from Miami Search and Rescue.
7 p.m. Three Fatalities Confirmed During Hurricane Irma in Marathon
WLRN's Florida Keys reporter Nancy Klingener reports that the area of the lower keys, from Bit Coppit Key to Big Pine Key is the area that is emerged as the worst affected by Hurricane Irma.
“We’re focusing on the lower keys,” said Monroe County Mayor George Nugent.
Monroe Sheriff Sergeant Donnie Catala said some roads are still unpassable on Big Pine Key, and they haven't been able to get into the deeper subdivisions.
Nugent said three fatalities have been confirmed during the storm, all of which occurred in Marathon. One fatality happened right before the storm, when a truck wrapped itself around a tree enough. Another occurred when a man tied himself to a tree during the storm. The third death, Nugent said, was from natural causes.
Nugent said that people who have evacuated cannot come back right now.
“We can’t compound the problems that we’re dealing with by letting a lot more people in right now,” he said.
Regarding the man who tied himself to the tree, he said, “Obviously that was somebody who was deranged.”
5:30 p.m. Report That Historic Sugarloaf Bat Tower Has Been Destroyed By Hurricane Irma
WLRN's Florida Keys reporter Nancy Klingener says that the historic Sugarloaf Bat Tower has been destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Built in 1929 by Richter Clyde Perky, the tower was intended to help keep the area's mosquito population at bay.
"In his search for a solution, Perky came across a book called Bats, Mosquitoes, and Dollars by Dr. Charles Campbell. A doctor and 'city bacteriologist' based in San Antonio, Texas, Campbell had been experimenting with attracting bats to artificial roosts since the turn of the century, in the belief that they were the natural predators of mosquitoes."
Perky's plan was largely unsuccessful in its intended use, but it became a fixture of the community, landing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
4 p.m. Emergency Centers To Open For Those Who Remained Behind; Hospitals Still Closed
Monroe County is opening centers to distribute food and water, said county public information officer Cammy Clark. The centers will be at Key West Sears Town Plaza, Sugarloaf School, Marathon High School and the National Wildlife Refuge on the Overseas Highway.
The distribution centers are for people who remained in the Middle and Lower Keys despite a mandatory evacuation order. The situation there is dire: Urban search-and-rescue teams are looking for people who may have been trapped, injured or killed by the storm.
People who evacuated the Upper Keys are being allowed to return. They must be able to show proof of residency or business ownership. They will not be able to cross beyond mile marker 80.5 in Islamorada, according to a Twitter post from Monroe County.
If you are an Upper Keys resident returning to the Keys, please know there are no provided services. Bring your own food & water.— Monroe County BOCC (@monroecounty) September 12, 2017
Key West International Airport, Florida Keys Marathon Airport and Naval Air Station Key West are open to receive emergency supplies, but there will be no commercial or general aviation at the airports until further notice, Clark said.
She said reopening the Keys' three hospitals is a priority. An inspection on Monday night found damage to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier Key, and the hospital was "not ready to accept patients," according to a post on the Monroe County News Twitter feed.
That hospital, along with Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon and the Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West "are working quickly to be able to receive patients," Clark said. The three Trauma Star helicopters were to return to Monroe County and resume patient pickup by midday Tuesday.
Monroe County is under a dawn-to-dusk curfew. The county will stop allowing people to return to the Upper Keys a half-hour before dusk on Tuesday, with re-entry to resume at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
12 p.m. Residents Struggle To Find Resources
WLRN reporter Nan Klingener says that while some people who stayed on the islands have generators, good supplies of water, food and other resources, that’s not the case for everyone.
Anthony, Daniel and Camille spent the storm at the Anchors Aweigh Club, a headquarters for recovery programs. They said they did not have the money to leave and did not want to take the free buses to the shelter on the mainland, because they didn’t think they would be able to get back.
“This is where I want to be,” said Anthony.
They rode out the storm in the Anchors Aweigh Club and said they don’t have a lot of supplies. “Barely anything,” said Camille.
They have not received any help.
Their street, which is in the heart of old-town Key West is like a deserted zone, they said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made an updated satellite image of Key West, Stock Island, Boca Chica Key, Big Coppitt Key and Geiger Key available for residents and business owner to see an areal view of their home or building. You have to zoom in very closely, but it has captured downed trees and sunken boats.
10 a.m. Monroe County Authorities: "It's not safe for residents to return"
"It's not that we don't want our residents to come back. It's that right now it's not safe," said Cammy Clark, public information officer (PIO) for Monroe County, to WLRN.
Clark confirmed that residents and business owners in Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada are allowed to re-enter, but only until Mile Marker (MM) 80, where Midway Café is located. Everybody who wants to go in has to present proof of residency. She said they can't let people proceed further because, "We don't want to risk the safety of our residents."
Clark confirmed that the Overseas Highway suffered damages around MM 75 on one lane, the one closest to the ocean, for a stretch of 150 feet. She said that a crew is working on repairs using recycled materials because asphalt is very hard to find at the moment. She said they expect the repairs to be completed today.
Clark said that both airports in the Keys are open but for emergency responders only. "Don't be fooled by what some airlines are saying. Keys airports are not open for commercial or general aviation," she said.
"Our number one priority today is to open our hospitals so residents and emergency personnel can get medical treatment," said Clark, who explained that recovery efforts go in phases.
The Monroe County PIO denied reports that damages to the Keys will require evacuation of 10,000 people who didn't evacuate before the storm and also said that the county authorities are setting up a website to gather all information about recovery efforts. It should be operational by tomorrow.
10 a.m. Key West Naval Air Station in reasonable condition, all personnel accounted for
"The base looks pretty good considering what we went through. We had no flooding in the military areas, which was one of our concerns, and all of our personnel is safe and their families accounted for," said Key West Naval Air Station spokesperson, Trice Denny.
Denny said the base team has been working on opening up the runway to receive flights.
9 a.m. Mariner's Hospital will remain closed
Mariners Hospital wasn't able to re-open as scheduled because of damages.
Mariners Hospital in Tavernier is not ready to accept patients. They found damage & are working quickly to get the hospital operational.— Monroe County BOCC (@monroecounty) September 12, 2017
7 a.m.: Residents and business owners in Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada allowed re-entry
Entry requires a yellow re-entry sticker or proof of residency or business ownership in Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada. A roadblock was set around Mile Marker 74, just before Sea Oates Beach where part of the road has washed out. An FDOT road crew is scheduled to repair the road on Wednesday.
"Returning residents should consider that there are limited services. Most areas are still without power and water. Cell service is spotty. And most gas stations are still closed,"said a press release from Monroe County authorities.
Crews are continuing to work to clear U.S. 1. FDOT has inspected all the bridges along U.S. 1. They cleared all the bridges to Mile Marker 16 as safe. They are waiting for reports on the safety of the remaining bridges.
8:53 p.m. Here’s the only shelter that will take you in if you live in the Keys
By Monique O. Madan and David Goodhue, Miami Herald
Hurricane Irma is gone, you live in the Florida Keys and you want to go back home.
Well, you can’t — not yet at least. The two roads entering Key Largo from Miami — U.S. 1 and Card Sound Road — are closed due to storm debris. Officials say it’s unclear when they will reopen.
If you don’t have friends or family you can stay with, you have one shelter available: The Darwin Fuchs Sunshine Pavilion (Tamiami Park) at 10901 Coral Way — 26 miles north if you take Florida’s Turnpike.
“Right now that is the one site where they are advised to go to if they need shelter,” said county spokeswoman Stephanie Severino.
Severino said the shelters closer to the Keys in South Miami-Dade are either already closed or closing soon.
Read more at our news partner, the Miami Herald.
7:50 p.m. ‘Devastation’ in the Florida Keys: Here’s what happened when Irma struck
By David Ovalle, Kyra Gurney, Daniel Chang and Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald
Cudjoe Key - When the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Cudjoe Key, Cindy Dresow and Jim Hoffman ran to grab the cushions off the couch of their 48-year-old, oval-shaped home.
The winds had ripped a hole in their aging roof. They had to plug it fast, with whatever was at hand. Soon, the ferocious gales would start up again. But somehow the cushions held.
“We are very fortunate for being directly in the eye,” said Hoffman, 70. The eye offered an hour of relief from the 130 mph winds raging around the calmness at the center of the Category 4 storm.
Read more at our news partner, the Miami Herald.
5:53 p.m. Transported to the pre-digital pre-cellphone era
Nancy Klingener, WLRN News
Life in Key West at least for those of us who escaped major structural or water damage has acquired a provisional ad hoc quality.
It's like we've been transported to the pre-digital, pre-cellphone era. In fact, it’s the pre-telephone era for most of us.
So information — that commodity that used to be instantly available from that phone in your pocket - it’s suddenly a scarce resource.
I've been longing for the printed list of phone numbers I used to keep as my version of a roladex. They were all landlines, of course, because that's all there were. And landlines worked in power outages, sometimes even after hurricane, but these days even landlines tend to be power or internet dependent, so I've gone really old school to get information.
I have to show up where I hope I have to show up where I hope someone will be then write it down on paper and use that old standby -- word of mouth -- to get the information out. Like the water will be on from 10 to 12 tomorrow so we can all shower and flush.
People plan meet-ups and pool resources, like tools and labor, but you can't really plan your day because you don't know what era you’ll be in. The bathing deprivation era — that's what I hope ends very soon. The world lit only by fire - that's the title of a book about the Middle Ages that I would double check if I had a web connection.
Are we living a subtropical version of The Road Warrior where no one can say when the fuel trucks in gas station staff will be back? That's another reference I would have checked on my phone, but fortunately my husband is a master of that kind of information.
And maybe the scariest: Will we still be in a throwback to the pre-telephone era from medical help when there's no 911 and an emergency room is unavailable much less an airlift to a trauma center?
When they're urging us to leave before a hurricane, public officials warn the aftermath can be uncomfortable.
3:42 p.m. Key West on Monday
Nancy Klingener, WLRN News
Key West on Monday was a quiet place. You could hear a few generators around. There's some Coast Guard planes circling the island, presumably assessing damage.
There is no power. There is basically no water, which is a major concern. And apparently the city's sewage treatment plant generator has a problem.
The city really doesn't want people to come back because there are just no services here.
The city spokeswoman told me today that when they get connected, they’ll let people know, and they can come back. But at the moment, there is no 911 service. There are no medical services. There's really not an emergency room, and there's no way to call for help if you needed it.
People in the city are out and about. Major roadways are being cleared of debris, but there [are] still lots and lots of trees down. When you walk, drive or ride your bike, you have to turn around a lot of the time because there's a tree blocking the road.
It's a little dangerous and a little scary. You have to proceed very, very carefully and the city is very concerned about people getting hurt when there aren’t medical service is available for them.
A couple things the city spokeswoman said to me: There's already too many people here, which is one reason they don't want people to come back, and the Aqueduct line is the thing that's their lifeline.
They're asking people to just kind of chill out, both on the mainland -- as far as coming back -- and here [in the Keys], in terms of just taking it easy, not using a lot of power tools, not taking any chances.
She said to pretend it's like back [after] Hurricane Andrew, when we didn't have all this technology -- because we don’t.
After Hurricane Andrew, the Keys were cut off like this, at least power-wise. We didn't have damage, like we do now, and people couldn't get back in like that. What we didn't have back then were cellphones and instant connectivity all the time everywhere, which is what we expect [now], and we just don't have it.
I spoke with a fellow today who had been up to Big Coppitt Key yesterday. He said he saw the fire station there had no doors on it. He said that 1st, 2nd and 3rd streets were still under water at that time, so he couldn’t go down them.
He went down Tamarind Drive on Big Coppitt. He saw a lots of trees down and electric lines down. He said a lot of the houses don't have roofs, and a lot of them had roof damage.
He saw boats on the road, one of the gas stations there -- its pumps had been knocked over. So, it looks like the farther up the road from Key West that you go, the more severe the damage is.
People are not traveling a lot because there's no gas coming in and we don't know when it will be coming in. So you need to conserve your fuel, you need to conserve your water, you need to be very, very careful.
Life in Key West
Right now people are communicating sort of old school, dropping by [each] other’s houses to talk about helping each other out, being able to unboard a little, so you can get air circulation in your house. It's very hot and stuffy.
People are talking about communicating on VHF radios.
There is one radio station, US1 Radio on Sugarloaf Key, that is on the air. Like the rest of us, they don't really have any way to communicate in or out, so people are actually stopping by the station — the mayor of Key West, the sheriff of Monroe County - to give information out that way. That's the radio station we're all listening to right now. They're on the air telling people what they know and and just advising caution.
In Key West, people are trying to use up any food very quickly that could go bad since there's no refrigeration in sight, and the supplies of ice are obviously quickly melting. So, people are having cookouts and using those up.
There are still people at the shelters.
One example of the lack of medical communication: I was at the city police station talking to the public information officer today. A man pulled up said he was the manager at the high school shelter and that a 80-year-old woman there was having breathing problems. She quickly directed him to the fire station, where the EMTs are, which is right next door to the police station, and that's how you get medical help.
There is no 911. There is no way to call people for help. You have to drive to the fire station and ask for it.
2:10 p.m. Navy carrier to aid Keys recovery effort
The Navy is sending an aircraft carrier to Key West to provide emergency services.
An update from Monroe County describes “an astounding recovery effort” taking place in the Florida Keys.
The USS Lincoln aircraft carrier will be anchored off Key West to provide emergency services, and three other Navy vessels are en route.
Officials said the National Guard has arrived in the island chain, and state transportation officials have cleared six of 42 bridges as safe for travel. However, roads remain closed because of debris, and fuel is still a concern. There is no water, power or cell service in the Keys.
1:50 p.m. No school in Monroe County indefinitely
Monroe County schools will remain closed indefinitely, according to a district press release issued Monday afternoon. For now, schools will be cancelled with certainty through Sept. 15.
“Due to the need to survey damage from Hurricane Irma throughout the Keys, officials ask that you be patient and not attempt to return to the Keys until Monroe County Emergency Management Officials give the ‘okay,’” the release said.
The Monroe County Superintendent Mark Porter will open schools once emergency management says it's safe to return and infrastructure is safe.
1:36 p.m. Road to Keys to remain closed
Kyra Gurney, Miami Herald
Southbound U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys will remain closed until further notice, the Florida Highway Patrol announced Monday afternoon.
“We have a lot of debris on the road, we have wires down, live wires,” said spokesman Joe Sanchez. “We have to give the proper authorities the opportunity to go down and evaluate the danger and address the danger.”
Although Hurricane Irma doesn’t appear to have broken any bridges, the Florida Department of Transportation has to finish inspecting all of the structures before the highway can reopen, Sanchez said.
State Troopers drove down U.S. 1 earlier in the day, but were only able to get as far as Mile Marker 88, Sanchez said.
“Thank God a lot of people evacuated the Keys,” he said. “When you start heading further down in the Keys that’s when you start having a lot of debris on the road and some devastation.”
The debris includes fallen trees, pieces of wood, seaweed from the storm surge and even some Sea-Doo boats.
“At this time I don’t have the faintest idea when they’re going to open the roadway,” Sanchez said.
12 p.m. Fury at the Keys as residents denied access
Kyra Gurney, Miami Herald
Tensions ran high at the entrance to the Florida Keys late Monday morning as families waited in the heat to return home. Some still hadn’t heard from friends and relatives who had stayed behind.
Officials from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said they were only letting utilities companies and a few contractors from the Department of Transportation pass. But after two unmarked cars went through the checkpoint, Keys residents waiting at a RaceTrac gas station erupted in protest.
“That’s bullshit!” a bearded Keys resident, who refused to give his name, shouted at the police. “Those people are tourists!”
When a deputy sheriff approached him, the man put his hands behind his back and dared the official to arrest him.
“People are dying in there. They’re thirsty, they’re hungry,” he told the official.
“I say we all just get in the car and drive. What are they going to do? Shoot us?” another man yelled to the others waiting at the gas station.
“This stuff right here is the reason why next storm they aren’t going to get people out of the Keys,” said the man, who identified himself as a Cudjoe Key resident but did not want to give his name. “I’ve been in the Keys for 40 years. This is the first time I ever evacuated and it’ll be my last.”
10:52 a.m. Florida Keys to the public: We’re closed until further notice
David Goodhue, Keys Reporter
The message was clear from Florida Keys officials Monday morning, the day after Hurricane Irma ransacked the island chain: We’re closed until further notice.
The message was loudest coming from the Southernmost City:
“We cannot support another mouth in Key West,” City General Manager Jim Scholl said on a conference call with other local, state and federal officials Monday morning.
The reason is the city has no power, water or flushing toilets, he said.
10:15 a.m. Anxiously Waiting
Kyra Gurney, Miami Herald
Police blocked the entrance to the Florida Keys on Monday morning as they continued to survey the damage and conduct search and rescue operations.
At a RaceTrac gas station near the entrance to Card Sound Road, dozens of Keys residents waited to return home. The police told them they didn't know when they would be allowed to drive south -- whether it would be tomorrow or next week or even later.
"We're anxious, we want to return," said Marathon resident Ricky Santiago, standing by his car with his family. "We can't do anything yet."
Santiago evacuated to South Dade with his mother, siblings and two dogs Friday after it became clear that Hurricane Irma wasn't going to turn away from the Keys. They waited out the storm at a friends' house and had been anxiously trying to call neighbors in Marathon to find out what had happened to their home. So far, no answer.
Other Keys residents had been able to get in touch with neighbors and knew their homes had only been slightly battered. They were anxious to get on the road and help friends who hadn't been so lucky.
"I have friends that need help. I have supplies for them," said Key Largo resident Tony Gibus. "We're capable people in the Keys, we don't need our hands held... We're not tourists."
Gibus said he was frustrated by the lack of information about when he would be able to return home and thought the police blockade should be further south to allow the northern Keys residents to pass through.
"No one should be able to keep you out of your home," he said.
That was a sentiment echoed by many waiting at the gas station. And many, like Gibus, said that after Irma, they wouldn't evacuate again.
Marc Serota had decided to leave his home in Key Tavernier with his wife and two small children on Friday because he was worried about their safety. But now, waiting in the heat for hours to return home, he said he wouldn't run when the next hurricane came.
"This is why people don't leave," he said. "It's not because they're afraid... it's because they're afraid they won't be able to get back and check on their homes."
"As long as I have shutters and a generator, with a Category 4 or less I wouldn't leave again," he added.